It was all from a single leaf.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I thought I knew exactly what they felt like, I was shocked. When I think about it, I realize now how reactive I am to things around me. I think I know exactly who this person is or whether I’ll like a certain experience or not. When a test comes my brain interprets it as something to be feared when maybe it isn’t. Wow, amazing.” This 17 year old girl was talking about an experience she had on a mindful hike that my wife and I lead as part of a mindful teen retreat.
What can we gain by stripping our preconceived notions of things and engaging life with fresh eyes?
Maybe a renewed lease on life.
Thinking of our brain as a sponge is not a new metaphor, but it’s accurate. The sponge is made of memories that are constantly referenced to make sense of the worlds inside and outside of us.
While this is essentially adaptive for helping us walk, talk, and have highly enough hand motion to drink without spilling liquid all over our shirts, it’s not always good when it makes our perception of how we see other people and our abilities in life routine.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.”
Sometimes just entertaining seeing something with fresh eyes, whether it’s a conversation with a friend, eating something or even just touching a leaf, can open up a world of possibility you didn’t know was there before.
Consider for a moment. What in your life has become routine? Who do you think you’re an expert on? What do you feel so certain about? What would it be like to spend a short time every day choosing to put what you know aside and open up to something with fresh eyes?
Would you rediscover some wonders in life that you had been blind to? Might you open up the possibility of learning something?
You don’t grow new neural connections by being the eternal expert on things. Neurons fire together and wire together as a result of learning.
Now that we know the brain is plastic and continues to shape itself throughout the lifespan, we can open up to seeing things differently.
Are you someone whose mind often tends toward the negative or shutting options down? Do you tend to believe worst-case-scenarios? Do you think you have the world’s number?
The danger of the brain is that it makes things automatic and our perception of reality fixed so it can handle more complex tasks.
Like the 17 year old girl, choosing to see life with a beginner’s mind taught her not to always buy wholesale the stories her mind was telling her. Perhaps there’s more to life than we know.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.